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Another day, another Mandarin class.

22 Sep

Remember two weeks ago when I was all up on my high horse due to the fact I was able to master the “u” and “ü” sounds better than my Anglophone classmates?

Yeah, well, that royally bit me in the behind at our second lesson yesterday.

We decided to ditch our last language school and go for another that seems a lot more professional and more in tune with Western learning. Less memorising of the pinyin chart and more coversational phrases.

So new school, new teacher and I just couldn’t get those sounds out again.

I was doing exaclty the same as I did the other time, pronouncing them just like I would in German but for some reason it was never right.

The funny thing was that the teacher even said that these sounds were easier for German and French speakers so what does this mean, I’m not pronouncing these sounds correctly in my own mother tongue??!

But overall (and on a less emotional note), we were very happy with the lesson. We covered the whole pinyin chart in an hour and then did the tones for 15min and the last 15min was learning our first phrases like hello, goodbye, see you next week, i’m sorry, it’s no problem, thank you and you’re welcome. Most of these phrases I already know, however I haven’t really been pronouncing them correctly.

We also came accross our first irregularity, conveniently found in Nǐ Hǎo (hello) where the tone is pronounced differently to how it’s written.

After the lesson we went for dinner and a few drinks. It’s funny … well, sad really… how pumped and motivated you are during and immediately after a lesson but five minutes later you’re sitting in a restaurant and you have no idea how to order four beers because you can’t remember the word for four, only the word for three and two and that’s hardly going to help. Thank God somebody had Lonely Plantet’s Guide to Mandarin in their bag. We eventually ordered our food and drinks, mostly by pointing, and then the waitress asked us something. We stare at her blankly, “uhmm…”, look at one another, and then one of us just shouts “Duì!” (correct/yes) just to give her some sort of answer.

Ah, yes, as said before, it’s a long road ahead.


Mandarin 101.

10 Sep

Welcome to the new Blog! I’m glad you’re all here!

Dave and I have been back from our Europe trip for a good couple of weeks and we’re slowly getting back into the Ningbo swing of NIngbo things. The weather is surprisingly bearable and it’s exciting being back here again. Lots more restaurants and shops have opened up in our apartment complex’s shopping street  and with university staff and students back again there’s a bit of a buzz in the neighborhood air.

Yesterday I had my first Chinese lesson and after 2 hours my head was spinning. First of all, it’s been a VERY long time since I sat down in a classroom and had to learn something theoretical and second of all, it’s Chinese for goodness sake!

But I’m feeling very optimistic even though it’s going to be a very long journey!

We’re starting with the pinyin alphabet first (pinyin being the Romanisation of Chinese characters) so we get to grips with the pronunciation of all the letters and simultaneously we’re learning all the various tones of each letter.

Yesterday we learned the first 6 “vowels” a, o, e, i, u and ü and the first 4 “consonants” b, p, m, f. Sound easy? It’s not.  A pinyin “a” is similar to the “a” sound in bar if you were to grotesquely pull back your lips and bare your teeth which, if you are doing it now, you will realize is very different to the English “a” as in bay. So there was a lot of mouth action going on while we were trying to contort our lips into the right shapes to get the right sounds.

And the “a” sound is definitely the easiest one of them. There’s the “e” which is not like in bee, no no, it’s more like the “eugh” sound you might make if you find something very revolting. In Chinese , coincidently, this sound (pronounced with the descending tone) means “hungry”. For demonstration our teacher was rubbing her tummy going “Eugh! Hungry!” while we were all thinking “Eugh! Tummy bug!”  The “u” and “ü” sounds I didn’t have any problems with because they are the same as in German but my English friends really struggled.

Then came the tones. There are 5 tones in the Chinese language: flat (ē), ascending (é), slightly descending then ascending (ě), descending (è) and natural (e) – lost you yet? – and we practiced the 6 vowels with all the different tones: aah, aah, aah, aah; ohh, ohh, ohh, ohh; eugh, eugh, eugh, eugh. Over and over again until we KINDA got it. The outbursts of giggling and expressions of complete perplexity got in the way sometimes.

Lastly we did the 4 consonants: on their own pronounced something like boh, poh, moh, foh though when combined with a vowel the “oh” sound falls away and something something… I shall no longer bore you. And don’t worry, it’ll be the last time I’ll be writing about my lessons in such detail! A comedic highlight though was when our teacher went to each of us and demonstrated the difference between the “b” and “p” sound by saying these consonants into the palms of our hands so that we could feel the different air blows a mouth makes when saying them.

But you get the general idea of the class: it went back to the real basics of the language and it was very repetitive. It’s going to take about five 2-hour classes to get the whole alphabet down, which in turn is just the beginning of conversational Chinese so I doubt I’ll be fluent anytime soon, haha! I’m doing this course with 3 other girls that work at Nottingham Uni and at the end of the class two of them felt that it was a bit TOO technical… and repetitive. Incidentally these two girls are English language teachers and for them this way of learning is very dated. They would rather start with conversational phrases that we can use in our everyday life and learn the pinyin and tones along the way. For me Chinese is SO alien I quite like the idea of starting with the very, very basics and building up. I think in the long run it will be easier and it provides a bit of logic to something I can otherwise make no sense out of. We’d like to continue doing it as a group because it was good fun (and could you imagine doing the above in a one-to-one class? my head would melt) so we’re going to ask if we can do an hour of pinyin and then an hour of conversational phrases just to keep everyone happy.

I hope you’ll all sign up for automatic posts. Just press on……………………….

I’m off to practice: bí  pā  bò mě  pù  mī  … etc.

I want this book though I think it might be lying